Ever since reading The Devotion of Suspect X I have steadily been devouring Keigo Higashino’s other novels available in English. I really enjoy his style of clever and unusual mysteries. I was thrilled to learn that Malice would be the next of his works to be translated. Technically, Malice is the fourth novel in Higashino’s series of books featuring Detective Kyoichiro Kaga. However, in English, it is the first volume of that particular series to be released. (Before Malice only select Detective Galileo novels and Himitsu, published in English as Naoko, had been translated.) But, as with many mystery series, it is not necessary to have read every volume in order to make sense of each installment; Malice holds up very well as its own work. Malice was originally published in Japan in 1996 while the English translation by Alexander O. Smith and Elye Alexander was released by the Minotaur Books imprint of St. Martin’s Press In 2014. When offered an early copy of the novel for review, I leapt at the chance to read it.
Kunihiko Hidaka is a best-selling, award-winning novelist who, soon before he moves from Japan to Canada, is murdered in his home. His body is found in his office behind a door locked from the inside. The house, too, is locked. Only three people are known to have seen Hidaka before his death: Rie Hidaka, his second wife; Osamu Nonoguchi, his friend and fellow author; and Miyako Fujio, the sister of a man who was vilified in one of Hidaka’s novels. All three have alibis and their motives, if they even exist, are unclear at best. Kyoichiro Kaga is one of the police detectives assigned to the investigation of Hidaka’s murder. It just so happens that he knows Nonoguchi. The two men used to be teachers at the same middle school before Kaga left to join the police force and Nonoguchi left to write full-time. Kaga’s intuition and his previous acquaintance with Nonoguchi correctly leads him to believe that something isn’t quite right with the other man’s story. Digging deeper he discovers that Nonoguchi and Hidaka’s relationship was much more complicated than it first appeared.
Higashino takes a different approach in each work, but much like the two Detective Galileo novels in English–The Devotion of Suspect X and Salvation of a Saint—who the murderer is in Malice becomes quite clear early on in the work. It doesn’t take very long at all for Nonoguchi to confess. The real mystery is the reason behind Hidaka’s murder and Nonoguchi’s motives. The confession is really all that the police department needs to close the case, but human curiosity demands to know the reasons why. To some extent, Nonoguchi is counting on this; he needs Kaga to investigate. Nonoguchi leads and misleads the detectives in order to create the narrative that he wants the world to believe about Hidaka and his murder. Malice is extraordinarily clever. Nonoguchi’s novelist mindset enables him to manipulate others in ways that are unexpected and yet completely reasonable. As an author he is quite skilled in creating fictions that people are willing to believe and knows how to play into their expectations.
As a whole, Malice is an extremely engaging mystery, but one of the most interesting and intriguing things about the novel is its structure. I’ve never come across something quite like it before. Some of the chapters are told by Nonoguchi, essentially forming a novel within a novel, while other chapters are devoted to Kaga’s notes on his investigation as well as the interviews he conducts as a part of it. Nonoguchi is an inherently unreliable narrator, freely mixing select facts into the fiction of his written account. Kaga’s task is to tease the truth out of Nonoguchi’s writing. Kaga is working with the same material that is presented to the readers of Malice; it is fascinating to see his thought processes and theories develop in response to the information that Nonoguchi is deliberately providing him. I’ve come to expect smart and clever writing from Higashino and I was not at all disappointed with Malice. I hope to see even more of his work translated, and perhaps even more stories featuring Kyoichiro Kaga, in the future.
Thank you to St. Martin’s Press for providing a copy of Malice for review.